Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Laid to Rest at Sea

I don't have many memories of my Grandma Dugger. When I was a baby, she was diagnosed with dementia. Soon after, she was placed in a state-run nursing facility.

I know that my dad went to visit her a lot, but I didn't go too often. I think it was just too painful for him to watch her not remember me, since only years before she was bragging about how I was her first granddaughter.

The visits that I do remember are not exactly pleasant memories. I remember visiting her when her illness had progressed very far. Since my cousin Jen and I were still very young, he would take my grandma out of the nursing home to go to the park. We would grab lunch at McDonalds and head out to the park that my grandma used to take me to.

My dad used to have to lift my grandma out of her wheelchair to put her in the car. As we would drive, she would begin to repeat certain words. She loved to stare at the sky and I remember her often repeating the word "bird" when she saw a seagull or pigeon fly by. I also remember wishing that I had a "normal" grandma who would make me cookies and take my shopping like other kids had. Now that I am older, I feel bad for feeling that way, but I remind myself that I was only a kid.

The sicker my grandmother got, the less often I went with my dad to visit her. While my dad and I have never had an in-depth discussion on the reasons for this, I think it is because it was just too painful for him. My dad's family is not much of an emotional bunch and I know it was difficult for him watching her mind and health deteriorate. My dad had such a close relationship with his mom - so watching her health slowly deteriorate must have been difficult.

She died when I was 12, just before I got interested in genealogy. I remember hearing the news that she had passed away. My dad went to go stay at a motel for a few days because he wanted to be alone. I always figured that a funeral would happen eventually, but it never did. We didn't mention my grandma in our house for months after she died because we all knew it was too painful for my dad to discuss.

Many years later I asked my dad where grandma was buried or where her ashes had been scattered. To my shock, he told me that a nonprofit organization had taken her ashes out to sea. I asked if anyone in the family had been on the boat as her ashes were spread out - he said no.

Perhaps if I was part of another family, I would feel that my Grandma Dugger's children had abandoned her. I know that they did not abandon her but that they loved her very much. The only people that were left in the family were her three surviving children and her three grandchildren. No one had the money for a formal funeral - the family had already spent the little money that we had on her hospital care.

I am very grateful for this organization - because they spread my Grandma's ashes in the ocean. They said a few prayers and then came back to shore.

I have very few pictures of Grandma Dugger and I. The ones that I do have include ones of her showing me how to make a sand castle and holding a sand crab. I know that the ocean was a very peaceful place for her, so I am happy that she was laid to rest at the place that brought her so much happiness.

Nancy Jean (Rogers) Dugger
1924 - 2002
Loving Mother
Greatly Missed

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not Everyone Has A Gravestone

Note: This post contains information about my maternal grandmother, Margaret Janice Doerflinger (Her maiden name was Harney).  It also contains information about my uncle, Eugene "Gene" Doerflinger, who died in 1961.

While at lunch today, I began talking to my parents about what I wanted for my birthday.  Since I know money is tight in my household, I only had one small request of my parents for my birthday: Take me to the cemetery that my Uncle Gene and Grandma Doerflinger are buried.

The moment the words left my mouth, my mom's eyes got big and she bit her lip.  "Well...why would you want to go there?", she asked.

"I don't have pictures of their gravestone and that just seems wrong since we live so close to the cemetery," I replied.

"Oh," my mom said before looking down at the table.  "...About that..."

"What?" I asked desperately.

"Well, when Grandma died we cremated her.  "Then we put her in Gene's casket, but we never bought a new gravestone.  So it doesn't say Grandma's name on it,".

I know that not every person who has died has a gravestone - some people are unknown, some didn't have the money for a gravestone, and some had their ashes spread.  Apparently though, some people don't have a gravestone because the person who buries them doesn't feel like getting a new gravestone.

So when I go to my Grandma's Grave, I am going to have to take a picture of the gravestone that is there, and then leave a lengthy note in my genealogy database that describes the situation.

Note: If you contacted the cemetery in which my grandmother is buried, they will tell you that my grandmother is buried there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Honoring Their Service and Their Lives

My family is full of veterans.  My dad, my grandpa, and many of my uncles are veterans.

But my story today is going to focus on the uncle I never knew because his life was taken away all too soon - My Uncle Gene.

Eugene William Doerflinger was born on May 13, 1935 in Santa Monica, California to Max and Margaret "Sis" Doerflinger.  He was the newly wed couple's firstborn, and the new family had a bright future ahead of them.

Eugene would become the first of six children born to Max and Margaret.  The kids were spread out in ages though, with the last child, my mom, being born in 1959.

Eugene decided to join the Army, and he proudly served his country for three year
s.  I am so fortunate enough to have all the letters that were sent to him from home and sent from him to home.  Despite being in Africa, he rarely discussed military life, opting to instead ask about his baby sister (my mom) or talk about a new food that he had tried.

Below is the front and back of the ID card of Eugene that he used when he was stationed in Ethiopia.

(He is certainly a good looking man, ain't he?)

Once Eugene was out of the Army, he settled back at home in Santa Monica, CA and his relationship with his girlfriend began to get serious.  He finally confided in a close family friend, Jack, that he was ready to ask her to marry him.

Before he popped the question, he wrote a letter to his Aunt in Seattle, WA - telling her to prepare to travel down to California for the wedding.  He talked about how his sister, Janice, would be a bride's maid, about how his sister, Diane would be the flower girl, and a house that he was looking at.  The excitement in his words in evident.

The next day, he got a quick pep talk from his best friend, Jack, and headed off to pick up his girlfriend.  He decided to take her to a beautiful spot in the hills to pop her the question.  While they were traveling on a high, winding road, the car crashed and tumbled over the side of the hill.  While his girlfriend survived, Eugene did not.  The date was the 15 Feb 1961.

Everyone says that my grandparents were never the same after that.  They say that my grandparents were forever heartbroken and incomplete, missing that bright love for life that they once had.  But who could blame them - loosing a child would certainly change you.

My mom has always said that despite the fact that she doesn't really remember him much, that she has always felt connected to him.  If I was a boy, I would've been named Eugene.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Taking Wonderful Cemetery Photos

So you're going to the cemetery. You got your camera, your notebook and pen, an extra battery, and an extra memory card. But how do you know you'll get the best pictures possible?

Taking Pictures Of The Cemetery As A Whole
When you go to the cemetery, you are going to want to take pictures of the cemetery as a whole. Try taking pictures of the entrance, the gates, the sign, even the little church that's on the property. The exact things that you take a picture of will vary slightly from cemetery to cemetery, but you just want to give a general idea of what the cemetery as a whole looks like.

Using Pictures To Give Location Clues
When you take pictures of the individual stones in a cemetery, you of course want to get a close up picture to be able to read the inscription. But you also want to remember to take a more wide, far away shot so that you (and others) have an idea of where the tombstone fits in with the rest of the cemetery.

I Can't Read The Inscription
Contrary to popular belief, it is a horrible idea to use shaving cream on a tombstone in an effort to make the inscription easier to read. The shaving cream will damage the stone over time. Instead, use water from a spray bottle to make the wording darker. Simply spray the tombstone, let it dry for a few minutes, and then take your picture. The words will be much darker and easier to read.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I've Renamed My Blog!

Welcome to my newly renamed Graveyard Rabbit Blog: The Graveyard Rabbit Student!

After some careful consideration, I decided that renaming this blog was the best thing to do.  Afterall, I am a student - and I wanted people to understand that I am not only a student in college, but also a passionate student about cemeteries.  I felt the title fitted me much better.

While on Spring Break (which I am on right now), I hope to do some more posting.  I've been so busy with school that I haven't had much of a chance to do posting.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tombstones - Primary or Secondary Sources

Tombstones can often give a great deal of information about an ancestor.  Names, dates, places, even information on the family can be included on a tombstone.  Once people find the tombstone of an ancestor, they hurry to enter the information into their genealogy programs.  But when it comes time to cite the source of this new found information, many people get stuck: Is this a primary source or a secondary source?

The answer to that question is that all information on a tombstone is from a secondary source.

The first reason that a tombstone is considered a secondary source is that the information on the tombstone is only as accurate as the informats memory.  It is so easy for birth dates and places to be wrong - even for a name to be wrong.  One of my ancestors came to the U.S from Germany with his birth name being Anton Keppler.  But on his tombstone, he is listed as Anthony Keppler, because as he assimilated with American culture, he let his name become Americanized.

Sometimes, it took a while for the family to be able to afford a tombstone.  So by the time the information was even put on the tombstone, it could be weeks, months, even years later.  During the Great Depression, it was especially common for families to not be able to afford a tombstone. Money was simply not available for a tombstone, and sometimes families had to wait years before they could afford one.  All of the information is now left up to family members as they are forced to try to remember dates.

Another reason why tombstones are considered a secondary source is that sometimes the stonemason made a mistake when carving in the details.  Sometimes a name is mispelled or a date written incorrectly.  You would think that these stones would be replaced, but sometimes the money was just not there.

The moral of the story is to never assume that the information on the stone is correct - more research is needed to confirm.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Celebration Of Life Versus A Funeral

When my Uncle Dudley died in July of 2007, my entire family was heartbroken.  He had long been a backbone that our family depended on.  When he died, it was left to his only daughter, Arianne, to put the peices back together.

In a way, she had been lucky that he laid out directions for her.  He not only had his wishes listed in a will, but he had also written notes to her during the months that he was sick that laid out his wishes and gave her encouragement.  What he wished for was to not have a funeral because he always said that he hated funerals.  Instead of focusing on the life that he had lost, he wanted the focus to be on the life that he had lived.  So, he decided that he wanted a Celebration of Life, which would give everyone a chance to celebrate the life that he led.

So, Arianne rented a large banquet hall and got a caterer to serve my Uncle's favorite meals, and she sent out invitations (the event took over a month to plan), and people came out of the woodwork to attend.  (In fact, so many people wanted to attend, that some people had to be turned down for the celebration of life and invited to other parties).

Everyone was dressed formally in black ties and fancy dresses when they arrived (just as my Uncle's wishes) and everyone enjoyed themselves as they told wonderful stories of my uncle.  After we ate some of his favorite foods, there was a slide show that was beautiful.  Then, everyone had a chance to speak to the crowd, which was wonderful.

So, if as your preparing your will (which, as morbid as it is, is very important), you might want to consider having a Celebration of Life. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Organizing All Of Your Cemetery Pictures

Hopefully, many of you have some cemetery pictures that relate to your ancestors.  It can get a bit difficult to organize these photos.  But I've come up with a plan.

My plan for organizing the cemetery pictures that I've accumulated is to use a format similiar to a book or notebook.  It follows the idea of one picture per page, along with a short description.  It can then be organized by surname, couples, location, or cemetery.  Each page can be easily created using a word processor, such as Word.  All of the pages can be easily bound at a Kinkos or copy store, or placed into a binder.

Let me give you an example:

Let's say I am going to make the page for my great grandfather, Monroe Dugger and his wife, Matilda Clawson Dugger.  Here is what I would do:
1.) Because Monroe and Matilda have only one stone for the two of them, I am going to list them on only one page.  (Although, you could just copy the picture and have it in two places).
2.) In my word processor, I would open up a new document, and for a header, I would type "Monroe Dugger 1885-1950 and Matilda Clawson Dugger 1886 - 1931".  From there, I would start to write some basic information for each person (birth date/place, marriage date/place, death date/place) in a list format.
3.) I would then begin writing, in paragraph form, a few details about Monroe and Matilda and their life together.  You might want to include the names of their parents, any children they had, where they lived, their occupations, etc.  The length of this can vary based on how much detail you have about the person/couple, but as a general rule of thumb, I always leave about a quarter of the page for the picture and details about the cemetery.
4.) Then I insert the picture(s) of the headstones on the bottom part of the page, along with some details of when each person was buried, the name and location of the cemetery (if it is in a particularly rural place, I'll include quick street names), and some small details about the cemetery (Is it abandoned?, When was it created?, Is it a family cemetery?, Is there a church that takes care of it?, etc.)
5.) Finally, I number the page and print it out (Remember, you don't have to number them in the "1, 2, 3" format.  You could use the first letter of the surname followed by a number or really anything you like).  Now I can place it into my binder and it is almost ready to go.
6.) Tip: Print an index for your book - so that you can easily find the person you are looking for at a glance.  This way, you don't waste time searching through your book to find someone/something.  Might I also suggest that you also make an index of the cemeteries, so that if you ever get curious as to how many ancestors you have buried in a certain cemetery, you can easily find out.

This post was just meant to give you some inspiration on how to organize all of those cemetery photos that you have.  You can certainly adapt this method to your own needs.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Do You Do When Your Ancestor Wasn't Buried?

When my uncle died in 2007 - it was devastating to my family.  A bit unexpected, his death threw our family into panic-mode, as everyone came together to deal with the loss as a family.

Luckily, he had a will (one that was notarized, and multiple "updates" to his will that he wrote during his final months, while he was sick).  While everyone had originally thought that he wanted to be buried in the same cemetery that his parents and brother were buried in - he had actually specifically written that he wanted to be cremated.  Furthermore, he wanted his ashes to be spread out throughout the country, in places that had brought him joy throughout his life.

For example, he asked for some of his ashes to be spread in Seattle because he spent many summers there with his grandparents and he went to college there.  He asked for some of his ashes to be placed in the ocean off of San Marcos, California - because it was on those beaches that he felt he had connected with his daughter the most.  He asked that some of his ashes be placed in Palm Springs, because that was where he bought his first home.  And finally, he asked that some of his ashes be buried in the backyard of his condo - because he said he felt the love of his family and friends whenever he was home.

After I had grieved his death, I realized that there wasn't one specific place that he was buried.  There was no headstone to go searching for, no cemeteries to search through.  So what would his descendants do?

That's when I went into brainstorming-mode, because I didn't want our descendants to feel the frustration of not being able to find him in any cemeteries.  How could I communicate with them what happened?

While I can't guarantee that my idea will work, I think that it is the best shot that I have: Write down information about his death, his celebration of life (he opted for this instead of a funeral), and the spreading of the ashes and give a copy of it, along with a DVD of a slide show of pictures of him, to as many family members that I can think of.  I also sent one to many close family friends, just in case it is one of their descendants that has the last copy.

My cousin Arianne (my uncle's daughter) and I are also in the process of creating a small book of sorts that is dedicated to my uncle and his life.  It will include pictures, a biography, and many stories that friends and family wrote about my uncle.  This book is just another way to celebrate the life that he led and continue to spread his spirit around.

While not many of your ancestors (from more than a generation or two), may have their ashes spread in different places - this new trend might make an impact on your descendants.  So if you have a family member who chooses to have his/her ashes spread in a location(s), then consider some of the things I've talked about in this post.  Hopefully, your descendants won't feel the frustration of trying to find something that doesn't exist.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

An Update On My Volunteer Work

Remember my post that I made before the holidays that stressed doing volunteer work in cemeteries and that talked about my own volunteer work that I planned to get started with a friend?  Well, since it got such a great response, I thought I'd give you guys an update.

I found a friend to do my volunteer project with (Which makes it a lot more fun!).  She decided to participate with me because she needs to get some volunteer time so she can qualify for some more scholarships.  Her name is Amy, and after a lot of delays (between family obligations and the rain, there were A LOT of delays), we finally got to go out this weekend.

We arrived to the small cemetery, nestled in between two apartment buildings in the residential area of San Pedro, California at seven in the morning.  We took Amy's gigantic dog, Max, along with us for protection and company (it is not exactly the safest area of San Pedro for two young girls to be all alone in).

Amy was the designated picture-taker (She took a TON of pictures) while I was the transcriber.  After making a rough map of the cemetery, we set to work.  We noticed, however, that in front of each stone, there was an old flower.  We thought this was sweet, that someone had thought of these people even though the cemetery is long forgotten by the town.

When we were about half way through the cemetery, I noticed an old woman with a cane and a picnic-style basket come walking into the cemetery.  She seemed like she knew where she was going as she walked up to one particular stone and bowed her head for a moment.  Then, she placed a flower in front of the stone and walked back to the front of the cemetery.

I thought that she was getting ready to leave, but she instead walked to the end of the first row and began placing a flower in front of each headstone while also picking up the old flower and placing it into her basket.  She continued through every row while Amy and I were doing our work.  When our paths finally crossed, she gave us a big smile, nodded her head and continued her work.

Amy was the first who tried to talk to her, asking her often she left flowers on the stones.  It quickly became apparent that there was a language barrier, and judging by what she did say, it sounded Italian.  We continued our conversation in a charades sort of fashion, giggling at ourselves for trying to act out every sentence.

From what Amy and I were able to gather, the stone that she first left the flower on was the gravestone of her grandfather.  I think he was a fisherman or atleast had something to do with the water.  When asked how long she had been leaving flowers for the people in the cemetery, she said she had been doing it since she was a young girl (or atleast, that is what I think she said...)

So, after Amy and I were done, and the sweet old lady was done, we left.  The next step is to go through every photo, name it, match it up with the transcriptions I've done, and put it all together in a word processor.  I hope that by the time school starts, I will have the book version of this done and bound by Kinkos so that I can deliver it to some of the libraries in the area and the family history library.